The Ens Project’s temporary website (theensproject.net/_html) states that “Asemota has been evolving The Ens Project since spring 2005. The project’s formative and creative impetus are ancient and contemporary Nigeria’s Edo peoples of Benin, their rich tradition of art and ceremony and their annual Igue rite to the Head; Victorian Britain’s history of invention, exploration and conquest in which the sacking and looting of the former kingdom of Benin is of particular interest; and the essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ by the German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin.” This essay attempts to relate the author’s experience of the various stages of the Benin-born artist Leo Asemota’s The Ens Project as he witnessed them unfold over the past thirteen years or so, during which time he was a spectator, a fellow artist, a participant, a recorder, and a collaborator, particularly in arranging discussions and performances at the British Museum, where he was a curator, publishing extracts of Leo’s work whenever the opportunity arose. Asemota occupies a unique place in what is loosely described as “contemporary African art,” not only because of the scale and timespan of The Ens Project, but also the variety of art forms it encompasses, including performance, the spoken word, drawing, sculpture, film, and radio. It reaches backward and forward in history, exposing and questioning one of the most contentious collections in the museum, yet always with a deep humanity that acknowledges a shared history and suggests ways of confronting the darkest and most inhumane elements of that history.

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